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Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain

Random thoughts from a Brit in the North West. Sometimes serious, sometimes not. Quite often curmudgeonly.

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 22 February 2021
22 February 2021 @ 13:36

Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable. 

- Christopher Howse: 'A Pilgrim in Spain'

Covid

The EU: Something odd is happening. Although I've heard nothing to support it from UK friends and relatives, there's a high level of French and German antipathy and resistance to the AZ vaccine. Ambrose gives his own - sceptical - take on 'Europe's disinformation war on vaccine science' below, claiming support from both French and German experts.

Sweden: The Times: How's it coping with Covid-19? The hands-off strategy hasn’t changed, officials insist. Even as the country emerges from a brutal second wave, health chiefs remain sceptical about lockdowns. Stats available here. Deaths per day certainly seem to have fallen to a very low level. Rates are also falling in the UK and  Germany but not so in France. Some would say, facing elections, M Macron could do with a scapegoat.

Living La Vida Loca in Galicia/Spain  

Two El Pais articles:-

1. Spain’s regions move to ease coronavirus restrictions despite high contagion rates. We might even see some announced in Galicia today. Madrid has never had the tightest restrictions, despite having a very high rate of infections. The regional president has favoured keeping businesses open there.

2. Spain announces the new target groups for coronavirus vaccination. The 60-to-79 bracket is next in line, as well as under-60s with medical conditions. But: It's not clear exactly when these new priority groups will get their shots, as this depends on the size of the shipments and the speed of administration in a healthcare system whose resources are already stretched thin. I'm still hoping for April . . . But if others are rejecting the AZ jab, I'll be happy to have one in March. Even if it's the last thing I do. As we say . . 

Oh, dear . . . Alleged to be the window of an academia in Valencia:-

The The Way of the World/The USA

Time to eat really tough on Facebook, following the example of Australia. Maybe this will get you round the paywall on this. If not, I'll post it tomorrow.

So, a Boeing 777 had an engine catch fire and fall to pieces over Denver. Well, I was once on a plane sitting right next to one of its 4 engines on fire - a Jumbo jet from Melbourne to London. Which wasn't supposed to end its flight in India. But we never made the media. I guess there were more important things to be concerned about back then. And no rolling 24/7 news outlets desperate for something to say.

Spanish

Scapegoat -  

1. Un chivo expiatorio: An expiatory goat

2. Una cabeza de turco. A Turkish head.

Finally . . .

Back in the 9th century, Cornwall and bits of Devon and Somerset were parts of a Brythonic kingdom called Dumnonia, populated by Brits driven west by invading/settling Anglo-Saxons. Earlier -  in the 6th century - some of of these unhappy 'West Welsh' had sailed southwards to form the Breton region of Domnonée.* Anyway, I mention it because this was the first bit of England invaded by the 'vikings'. In 838 - aided by the locals - they took on the forces of Egbert but were crushed at Hingston Down. Sadly - or fortunately - this didn't stop the Danish and other Scandinavians returning. Frequently and rather more  successfully, essentially establishing a Danish colony over half of England, lasting until the 11th century. Then came William.

*And, as previously noted, to establish Bretoña here in Galicia.

Talking of invasions and Cornwall . . . I wonder how many folk know Spain tried 3 times to invade England in the late 16th century, failing each time. Largely due to treacherous weather. The last attempt was in October 1597, 9 years after the famous one of 1588 - after Catholic spies had alerted Spain to the fact that the main English fleet had left for the Azores. BUT . . . Struck by a tremendous storm when it was 30 miles off Cornwall, the armada was battered for 3 days by fierce winds and high seas. It became scattered, with some ships running aground and others being wrecked on rocks or blowing up when their munitions caught fire. There was, though, some success: One ship landed several hundred soldiers near Falmouth, but they retreated when no reinforcements arrived, and the ship sailed off. The Spanish also failed to catch sight of the English fleet and their commander ordered a retreat to Spain. When the English fleet eventually returned from the Azores, they came across some of the scattered armada and captured 6 of the enemy ships.

So, is all this bloody Galician rain some sort of Spanish revenge on the Brits who live here? Just askin'.

THE ARTICLE   

Costs are rising exponentially for Europe's disinformation war on vaccine science.

Failing to tackle the "nocebo effect" renders €750bn Recovery Fund insufficient and makes restructuring some eurozone debt inescapable. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard. The Telegraph

Europe has succumbed to the nocebo effect. If people are primed to believe that something makes them ill, they discover illness. It is the reverse placebo.

Tens of millions have received the AstraZeneca jab in the UK and India without meaningful side-effects beyond minor - and desirable - signs of an immune reaction. Yet frontline health workers in Germany, Austria, France, and Spain have convinced themselves that it is doing them real harm, and that it is also ineffective.

The nocebo effect is a known pathology in medical science. It has been well-documented following false reporting on statins. One clinical trial studying headaches from electric currents found that two-thirds of the volunteers in the harmless control group also had headaches. Nocebo responses can be powerful and physiological. The symptoms are real.

That is probably what has been happening with AstraZeneca in Germany where fake news has run rampant, to the point of mass hysteria. Braunschweig’s Herzogin-Elisabeth hospital reported that 37 out of 88 staff reported sick the day after receiving the jab. The same happened to a quarter of 300 ambulance workers in Dortmund. 

There can be isolated bad batches with any vaccine but this has spread into a broader "me too" epidemic. Clinics in Lower Saxony have suspended use of the jab altogether. Germany faces a systematic rejection of the vaccine, yet it lacks alternatives to plug the gap. Germany's Central Institute for Health Insurance (ZI) says the bogus AstraZeneca scare could delay the entire vaccine rollout by two months. 

That could prove to be an expensive upset at a time when the British B.1.1.1.7 variant is rapidly taking over.  France is already where the UK was in early December just before when the epidemic went parabolic. The variant was 36pc of all French cases late last week, reaching 54pc in some departments. The South African and a Brazilian variants are more than 10pc in four departments.

French epidemiologists say the apparent stability in new cases is an illusion. There are two separate epidemics: the old one is declining with the current partial restrictions; the new B.1.1.1.7 epidemic is relentlessly rising. The numbers seem to knock each other out for a while until the variant reaches an inflexion point and goes wild.

This effect is nicely described by Gary Dagorn in Le Monde, one of the best pieces of reporting so far in the European press on Britain’s epidemic. It concludes that France is “highly likely” to follow the UK into the same furnace unless there is immediate counter-action.

“I think we’re in a situation pretty similar to what happened in England in December,” said Marc Baguelin, a French epidemiologist at Imperial College, London. The French national health and research institute has reached the same conclusion. 

Emmanuel Macron has taken a gamble by defying his scientific advisers and resisting a fresh lockdown. His stand seems popular. He is enjoying a small bounce in the polls. But if the bet goes wrong he - and France - are in serious trouble. He will have to impose the third great national lockdown in worse circumstances, after the new variant has become prevalent. Mr Macron will then need the AstraZeneca vaccine urgently. 

But having falsely declared it “quasi-ineffective” among those over 65 — for whatever political motive — he has poisoned the well. The French no longer want to take the vaccine. Hospital workers in Perigueux are demanding that they be given the Pfizer jab instead.

Italy is further behind France but on the same trajectory. The British variant is a quarter of cases in parts of the Mezzogiorno. Prof Andrea Crisanti, hero of the successful Veneto containment last year, says a fourth wave is now avoidable and is calling for an “immediate national lockdown”.

Germany is still at the bottom of this U-shaped epidemiological curve. It looks stable, but it is treacherous. The new variant is creeping up towards critical thresholds.  The difficulty is that the German press has now completely trashed the AstraZeneca vaccine, and in doing so fed the broader anti-vax movement.

No matter that the data pouring in from the UK’s mass vaccination campaign has beaten expectations. It has demonstrated near total efficacy against death and serious disease, protecting the elderly as presumed, and all without meaningful side-effects. A false story in Handelsblatt, citing government sources, has been echoed across the German media, and neither retracted nor adequately rebutted. Where there is smoke, there must be fire. Such is the national angst. 

Professor Christian Drosten, Angela Merkel’s Covid guru, is battling valiantly against disinformation. “There is always a fly in the ointment somewhere and people are looking at it with a magnifying glass. It is essential that we vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible,” he said.

It is the same message from Carsten Watzl from the German Society for Immunology. “To say that the AstraZeneca vaccine is second rate is completely off the mark, both scientifically and in terms of actual effects,” he said.

However, the damage is done. The concept of efficacy has been misunderstood. People think that if the rate is 70pc it means that 30pc are unprotected. If they were instead told that it is almost 100pc effective against serious illness, worries would ebb away - unless people have completely lost their sense of perspective.

Germany’s own regulators have contributed to the mistrust by withholding approval of the AstraZeneca jab for those over 65 on grounds of inadequate trial data. This was ‘t’ crossing and 'i’ dotting pedantry, a path followed by the French, Italians, and Spanish, who will not even allow it for the over-55s. 

There were no compelling reasons to argue that a standard viral vector vaccine would not be effective for the elderly.  The European Medicines Agency understood this and gave the green light. We now have fuller data confirming the validity of this hypothesis but it is too late. The rejectionists have already dug in their heels. 

The result is that Germany has used just 87,000 of the 736,800 AstraZeneca doses received so far. Spain had used 35,000 doses out of 418,000 delivered as of late last week. The precautionary principle has run amok. 

Where did this squalid saga begin? One could point the finger at Ursula von der Leyen. In December she sought to deflect criticism from the EU’s slow approval process and roll-out by trying to discredit British regulators. “Some countries started to vaccinate a little before Europe, it is true. But they resorted to emergency, 24-hour marketing authorisation procedures. The Commission and the member states agreed not to compromise on the safety and efficacy requirements,” she said.

This was false, irresponsible, and disgraceful. Europe will not suffer as many Covid deaths from the B.1.1.1.7 variant as the UK because some of its elderly are at least vaccinated, but it will pay a high economic price for wasting three months on the rollout before full reopening. 

The pandemic will not be contained in time to avert an extra quarter of double-dip slump. There will be deeper labour hysteresis and economic scarring. Thousands more businesses will be pushed over the edge into insolvency once loan moratoria expire. 

Southern Europe risks losing a second tourist season, or much of it. Public debt ratios will be further beyond the point of no return later this year. The EU’s €750bn Recovery Fund  - in reality €390bn of grants spread across 27 states over five years - is trivial by US standards and is rapidly being overtaken by events.

There will have to be a much larger package to avert another lost decade, but the North is going to resist. Fiscal settings are already turning contractionary in Germany and Holland.  

The European Central Bank is holding the edifice together by chronic monetisation of Club Med debt issuance. This is an unstable equilibrium. It will not be tolerated indefinitely by the German people or the Verfassungsgericht once German inflation revives.

In short, there will have to be an internal eurozone restructuring of Italian, Portuguese and Spanish sovereign debt.  Covid policy failures have made this almost ineluctable. Europe has condemned itself to another traumatic financial and political moment.



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